Age Concern, fellow charities and council leaders have written to care services minister Ivan Lewis accusing the Department of Health of reneging on a promise to consult on this year’s increase in the personal expenses allowance for care home residents.
In a letter also signed by the Local Government Association, Mencap, Counsel and Care and Help the Aged, they cited a promise made in parliament in January by Lewis to conduct a 12-week consultation “early in 2008” on recommendations made by the group of stakeholders themselves on the level of the allowance.
However, they said this consultation has not taken place and the DH simply went ahead with a 70p rise in the weekly allowance – to £21.15 – which came into force on 7 April. The allowance is paid to publicly-funded care home residents to cover general expenses including clothes and toiletries, however Age Concern and others have long argued that it is far too low and campaigned for a level of at least £40.
Differences of interpretation
The controversy seems to reflect differences in the interpretation of Lewis’ comments in January.
While promising to consult on the stakeholder group’s recommendations over the current level of the allowance, he did not explicitly commit to consulting on this year’s increase, despite this being standard practice.
The DH issued regulations in March to bring in the increase, where it said it would not consult on the rise in the allowance and accompanying inflation-based rises in means-testing thresholds for residential care charges, because it had received few responses in similar consultations in previous years.
However, it added that it would consult “on more substantial changes” to the level of the allowance and the means-testing thresholds later in the year, “following recommendations made to the Department of Health by a stakeholder group”.
Lewis reiterated this in a statement to Community Care, adding: “The views of older people, their carers and stakeholder groups on this issue will be fully taken into account before we make any final decision.”
The letter, which was also signed by the Relatives and Residents Association, NHFA care fees advice and the National Association of Financial Assessment Officers, urged the government to announce an “acceptable” level in the pre-budget report, this autumn.